How do you solve a problem like a teeny, tiny annual leave allowance? As a freelancer, you may think this is of no issue to me, but you’d be mistaken. Because if I take holiday, nobody pays me, nobody picks up my work slack and I lose two weeks of valued pitching time meaning when I come back – I often have minimal work to come back to.
Woe is me.
Before you stop reading, unsubscribe and demand a refund I’m NOT complaining. I say this, as a precursor to what I’m about to say next. This is the reason why I sometimes utilise the perks of my job to work in exchange for comped hotel stays. Just so you don’t think I’m a big, fat, sell out! That’s actually something I want to talk about in a future post, the idea of authenticity in blogging and journalism and how things can become intertwined and messy. But for now, let me just tell you that my trip to South Africa was partly-comped but I am honest regardless, and if you want to see my full disclaimer head on down to the bottom of the post.
But on to the more important stuff. What on earth can you do with two weeks in South Africa? We actually had ten days, so you can do what we did comfortably in less time too. Obviously, this is depending on where in the world you’re coming from and I’m presuming it’s the UK. If not, tweak to your own location but know that for us Brits — there is only a two hour time difference, and a ten hour direct flight so that’s what I’m basing the trip around.
Nobody seems to fly directly in or out of Cape Town, so we flew with Virgin (South Africa & British Airways also fly direct to SA) into Johannesburg and got internal flights with Safair (cheap and fab) to and from Cape Town.
The exchange rate for us Brits is fab – about £1 to 17 South African Rand at the moment. To put that in context, it’s about 25 Rand for an expensive cup of coffee.
You can drink the tap water, and there is no Malaria or Zika in most of South Africa. There are mozzies though, so we carried Incognito products with us (they’re ethical, and natural) and I didn’t get a single bite — even in Kruger.
The plugs are a little annoying, as many places still had the very old style sockets which neither of our Universal adaptors fit. We picked up an adaptor* for about 10 rand in the supermarket for anywhere still using the old style sockets.
If you want to know what I packed for this trip, download your FREE printable packing list.
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Kruger National Park
We flew to Jo’Burg, landing at around 7am. From there we picked up our hire car at the airport and drove straight to our first destination, Kruger National Park, where we stayed at two different places.
I think we are both agreed that staying at Klaserie Sands was probably one of the best travel experiences of our lives. Located in a private game reserve in Greater Kruger, the boutique lodge only has space for eight guests and is a seriously intimate affair. Host Lee-Ann and our guide Gordon sat down with us to eat dinner, and we enjoyed both a sunset game drive where we stopped for sundowners and snacks by the river along with a sunrise drive with hot tea and homemade biscotti.
The staff are totally dreamy, and you’ll come away from your trip feeling like part of the family. What’s even better though, is the sheer volume of animals you’ll see easily. Although there are, of course, no guarantees — we saw the entire big five within about 30 minutes of our arrival! The guides are more than just knowledgeable escorts on your trip — they live and breathe the reserve, and what they don;t know about tracking animals and protecting the bush isn’t worth knowing. As such, we tracked a shy leopard on our first evening which was pretty magical.
I couldn’t recommend these guys highly enough. It’s definitely on the luxurious end – but it is all inclusive, so it’s worth splashing out for a night or two to get the best safari experience.
Inside Kruger, all the parks are controlled by the government and you can book through their very organised website. We found that there was a range of accommodation to suit most budgets, but decided to pick something mid-range to suit our travel style. We plumped for Crocodile Bridge, based on the location (we checked recent animal sightings on Trip Advisor) and the fact it was so pretty! Our self catered hut had a little outdoor kitchen along with a Braii (BBQ) and overlooked the river. It also had air-con, a total bonus when it was 42 degrees!!!!!
Almost all parks have a car park, outdoor toilets and showers (if you decide to camp, or take a campervan) and a little shop providing the essentials. You can also book things like night drives, morning drives and even night walks through the reception. We paid for one morning drive, and then self drove to the Lower Sabie camp which had a beautiful Mugg & Bean restaurant overlooking the river. We had dinner here one evening and breakfast before we had to drive back to the airport.
The best thing about self-driving, is the total feeling of adventure. There were so many pinch me moments, like when a giraffe just popped it’s head out of the bush. Or when a herd of elephants crossed the road in front of us on the way to the river……I mean, you know how I feel about elephants right?
I think we paid around £70 a night for our little hut and I though it was fantastic value.
Things to Do
Surprisingly, Robben Island was really disappointing. If you don’t know already, the island was home to the notorious prison where Nelson Mandela (along with hundreds of other prisoners of war) was held for almost 20 years. Now, it’s an incredible island where people still live and is even home to the world’s largest colonies of African Penguins.
The problem, is the tour. You catch a 40 minute ferry (where we saw a whale, so keep your eyes peeled!) then get on a coach packed with people (there were about six coaches from our ferry) with a guide, who talks you through the island spots as you drive around. The issue, is that you can’t see a thing – it’s not a tour bus, more like a mega bus. You then get off the bus and head into the old prison where a former inmate talks at you for 40 minutes while you’re locked in a room (you aren’t literally locked in the room, but you can’t really leave!) before rushing through the rest of the prison to see the prison cells and being asked to tip the guide (that you didn’t ask for) so you can catch the ferry home.
If Robben Island was disappointing, the City Sightseeing bus tour was the total opposite! It gets super busy, but we picked up our ticket and hopped on a red route tour at the V&A waterfront offices (there are also offices on Long Street).
There are a few routes you can take, and you can hop on and hop off at each spot. I’ve never actually done one of these but they’re worldwide and I’d definitely do one again the next time I’m on holiday. It’s such a fab way to get yourself orientated with a city. We sat on the top deck, so as to sun
burn ourselves and enjoyed the dulcet tones of the narrator who talked us through some of the history of Cape Town.
There was a lot of chat about property, weirdly, and which areas cost the most money or were the most desirable. Usually related to how windy they were, and what the views of Table Mountain were like!
We picked our route as it stopped at two places we wanted to see: Table Mountain and Bo Kaap and started and ended at the stunning V&A Waterfront. Speaking of which….
The V&A Waterfront was apparently based on the Sydney Harbour Bridge-side shops and restaurants, and is the loveliest place to pick up artisanal wares along with grabbing a coffee, or a sundowner and snack from too. We came here a few times, eating at the food court twice and picking up our traditional poster-for-the-baby to boot.
Of course, no trip to Cape Town is complete without taking a trip to the top of the mountain that dominates every view of the city. Be prepared to queue, and make sure you go early-ish so the unpredictable weather doesn’t force you to hike down!
The cable cars are pretty darn epic, and if you are as scared as I was, it’ll reassure you that the cables are replaced once a year when the whole team are re-educated on the latest safety procedures. It’s a super slick service and once you are up, it doesn’t feel as busy as it is. You can also grab some very affordable lunch, and South African wine while enjoying one of the most epic views you’ll ever see.
I LOVED it.
Hmmmm I don’t know what it was about Cape Town but I didn’t love it. I think it’s because everyone tells you you’ll love it, and I’m naturally a contrarian, that I felt pretty underwhelmed by a lot of things. It may also be because I was working pretty hard, and almost eight months pregnant too……who knows. Either way, Bo Kaap — the area filled with colourful houses you see on Instagram — was a little disappointing to me. At first.
The area was home to Capetonian slaves, who were forced to wear drab grey in their day to day. In a brilliant act of rebellion they painted their houses like the rainbow leading to the most epic display of colour you’ll see anywhere in Cape Town.
Head over early, and avoid the main street near the city sightseeing bus stop. Instead, wander around the smaller side streets like we did and you’ll find much better photo opportunities and get a sense of the awesome community it once was.
We should have gone to the museum, but sadly totally forgot!
From Kruger, we drove back to Jo’Burg and caught a flight to Cape Town where we stayed at Salty Crax, a hostel super close to the beach in the Blouberg area. It’s a fairly typical hostel, but we had a gorgeous private room with a huge bathroom! Our room felt pretty boutique, but it was super noisy and sadly people were smoking outside our room which drifted into the room. But overall, it was a nice place to stay.
The location was lovely, especially if you want to head down to the beach for watersports and they offer loads of tours too. We took one tour, to Cape Point which was pretty good, although not something I would recommend as I think you can easily do it yourself (which would be much cheaper, and a nicer way to see the route).
Our Cape Town trip was split into two halves – pre Robertson, and post. When we came back we stayed at the amazing Backpack hostel, which was one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at. Perfect location (right next to Bo Kaap), super friendly staff and guests and fantastic rooms. Each room is named after a prominent South African, and there’s a real community spirit to the place — they even sell products made by locals in their reception which I was VERY tempted by.
Robertson Wine Valley
Ahhhhh the Robertson Wine Valley! We LOVED spending time here. Most people go to Stellbosch, or Franschoek in the wine country, both of which are much closer to Cape Town, but we were invited to Robertson by the Robertson Wine Valley and I feel so lucky we were — as it’s a total hidden gem despite being an easy two hour drive from Cape Town (with spectacular views along the way).
There are a plethora of vineyards to see, along with gorgeous places to eat and drink too. Here’s what we got up to.
Things To Do
A little like a hipster Majestic, Platform 62 is a family run liquor store selling artisan wine, gin, port, chutneys…..the list goes on. Christiaan and his man bun emphatically helps you pick the perfect wine, and you can even enjoy a bargain South African style Sunday lunch afterwards.
Graham Beck Wines
I’d never heard of Graham Beck before, but I should have done as both Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama chose the bubbly for their inauguration. They used to produce wine too, but now focus only on their bread and butter — the Methode Cap Classique bubbly (South Africa’s version of Champagne) and it is DELICIOUS!
Zandvliet Wine Estate
This was our first stop on the tour, and set us up well as we enjoyed a cheese platter and food and wine pairing with the lovely Megan and Clem. Both SA locals, and a media foodie power couple to boot, they told us so much about the wine valley and gave us a bit of history about the wines and produce.
Marbrin Olive Farm
I never realised olives could be so intriguing! Have you ever had an olive oil tasting? Me neither, and I never realised how complex it was!! We brought some of the award winning nextar of the gods back with us and have been cooking with it WITH ABANDON because guess what — you can cook with extra virgin olive oil!
We ate dinner here one evening, and enjoyed one of the most spectacular sunsets. The food was spectacular, and the views incredible — a total must-see when you are in the area.
It’s also a wellness retreat, so worth noting if you want to stay a while to relax and reset.
Now managing some of the Graham Beck wines (the Game Reserve wines) and also produce have their own award winning range too. It’s an easy stop off on your way back to Cape Town and is home to a randomly huge chair!
Mimosa Wine Lodge, Montagu
What a place! So, that picture of me in the yellow dress looking out over impossibly beautiful scenes……yep, that was on our balcony at Mimosa.
It’s located in the gorgeous little town of Montagu, which we wandered round and fell in love with straight away, and has the most beautiful grounds to chill out in. Our room was beyond spectacular, and if I were to go back I would happily stay a week! The pool, and loungers are gorgeous and gardens super relaxing.
But the star of the show is the chef and owner who cooks up a storm each night, with a wine pairing to match (if you want). We had the most amazing menu, with local wines to pair with them — all Mimosa branded made by one of the regions noted wine makers Lourens van der Westhuizen.
Galloway Guest House, Klaasvoogds
From luxury to luxury, the Galloway Guest House on Happy Days Farm is a small, intimate guest house in a converted stables. It’s quite modern, but still really charming and our room had views across endless fields and mountains.
We ate breakfast outside (delicious and home cooked!) and enjoyed some dreamy sunbathing on the loungers in the afternoon too. Highly recommended!
Have you been to South Africa? Which of my top picks would you stay at?
Many thanks to Travel Concept Solutions, Salty Crax, The Backpack Cape Town, the Robertson Wine Valley and Klaserie Sands for hosting me on my stay. Read my full disclaimer here.
Also published on Medium.